Missing Thibs: Bulls Defense Is Mediocre

The Chicago Bulls front office was more than willing to part ways with defensive specialist/coach Tom Thibodeau and while pushing him out the door they shamed him too, making the divorce an ugly one. The Bulls quickly turned the page. They had in mind more offense and zeroed in on Fred Hoiberg, former Kevin Garnett teammate from his young Timberwolves days who never coached in the NBA but had a philosophy of floor spacing he honed while coaching college ball.

The point Gar Forman (Bulls GM) was trying to make was hardly original. The game is getting quicker and faster. Thibodeau’s defense, while exceptional, required a tired and boring offense. The defense made the players exhausted. Thibs much slower, plodding, structure was holding the Bulls back from entering this new style of play.

On Thibs record was his league ranking in defense, how many points he allowed the other team. In the Thibs era, it was hard to score on the Bulls, giving them an advantage. You didn’t score 100 points against the Bulls, his defenses were that dramatic. Here is a sampling.

 Thibodeau’s Defense  Points Allowed  League Ranking
 2014-15  97.8  9th
 2013-14  91.8  1st
 2012-13  92.9  3rd
 2011-12  88.2  1st
 2010-11  91.3  2nd

Even Vinny del Negro, the Bulls coach a year before Thibs, didn’t give up a 100 points a game. But this current look of the Bulls is breaking a seven year record. The Bulls are giving up 101.3 points per game putting them 16th in the league. Last year they were 9th.

 Hoiberg Defense League Ranking 2015  Thibodeau Defense League Ranking 2014-15
Points Allowed  16th  9th
 Field Goal % Defense  12th  4th
 3-Point Defense  13th  3rd
 Rebounding  17th  3rd

The Bulls defensive problem, besides not having a defensive minded head coach, is that they sent Joakim Noah to the bench which puts a lot of pressure on 34 year old Pau Gasol who has never been considered a defender nor a physical player. Derrick Rose, is physical, but his repetitive injuries have slowed his lateral movement. He is not the defender he used to be. If Gasol isn’t rebounding, no one is. Don’t even think about asking Nikola Mirotic to defend anything.

But this is what the Bulls wanted, a more offensively minded game but at what cost? No rebounds, no rings, the slogan Pat Riley made famous, matters when the games matter and so the question becomes what is the Bulls identity?

Are they really an offensive team?

  • Points scored: 17th
  • Assists: 19th
  • Field Goal Percentage: 10th
  • 3-Point Percentage: 3rd

The Bulls are not a finished product and are not where they should be or where they used to be or where they want to be. The best they are right now is a perimeter shooting team so in that Hoiberg has fulfilled his promise. The worst they are is a below average rebounding team and a fallen off the map defensive team that doesn’t have the feel of a contender, at least not yet.

photo via llananba